According to "Taxpayers may pay for pension shortfall" by Neil Vigdor (Greenwich Time - March 1, 2009), prosperity for the lovely Connecticut may soon be a distant memory. A recent meeting of town officials revealed that "the town's pension fund has lost nearly 24 percent, more than $100 million, since last year. Continued deterioration in the equity markets could lead to a $16+ million contribution in short order. Layoffs of public workers have already begun with more likely to come. Though some employees are being directed to 401[k] plans in lieu of the traditional defined benefit plan, municipal woes are a huge headache.
Making matters worse, Greenwich - the home of more than a few major hedge funds - may soon be slapped with onerous compliance costs if Nutmeg state legislators have their way. Hartford Business Journal reporter Greg Bordonaro writes that three bills could potentially roil an already challenged industry. One bill would prohibit investments in hedge funds for individuals (institutions) with less than $2.5 ($5.0) million in assets. Another proposed rule would force additional transparency for any hedge fund that takes pension assets. Only time will tell if lawmakers get their way.
Earlier attempts at state mandates were rebuffed, fearing that the state would lose tax revenue from wealthy hedge fund managers. However, choppy markets make alternatives a ripe target for attack. Should compliance costs soar, Greenwich town leaders will have more to worry about than pension deficits. As hedge fund attorney John Brunjes says, "It's a highly competitive business, so it would take very little in terms of regulation for hedge fund managers to consider doing business elsewhere." Click to read "Lawmakers Propose Stiff Hedge Fund Oversight.
What's interesting is that equity-related losses are tempting plan sponsors to accelerate their allocation to strategies that lure with the potential of higher returns. Whether doubling up makes sense is a topic for another day. However, alpha-seeking institutions may have nowhere to go if new rules depress expected returns by increasing costs. The counter argument is that regulations are long overdue. No doubt it will be an interesting year for hedgies.